How to get started with non-visual digital maps

People with vision often take for granted the instant availability of digital maps. Going someplace new? Simply open Google Maps or Apple Maps to explore the area! Zoom in and learn the street names and nearby businesses. These maps enable users to build a mental map of the area and to plan routes. Unfortunately, these digital maps are visual in nature and are not accessible for blind and low vision travelers.

The accessibility team at SAS created non-visual digital maps, which are fully accessible with a screen reader! These maps are not designed to mirror traditional visual maps; instead, these maps take the data and present it in a non-visual way. Just like braille is a non-visual digital method of reading, these maps are primarily designed for auditory interaction. 

When exploring the non-visual digital map, use ear buds or headphones to hear the location of objects within the map. These objects are conveyed using 3D spatial sound.

Virtual Cane

Non-visual digital maps are explored with a virtual cane which is similar to a long cane. When walking with a long cane, the traveler extends his arm and swings the cane tip back and forth to detect objects. Similarly, the virtual cane on the map swings clockwise or counterclockwise in a circle. As the virtual cane detects objects on the map, the user hears the name of the object, direction of the object and the distance of object relative to their virtual location on the map.

Users can quickly change their virtual location within the map. For example, if a user detects an object of interest, they can press a key on their keyboard to move to the object. Users can also search the entire map for objects of interest and jump directly there.

Try it yourself 

  1. Install SAS Graphics Accelerator for Google Chrome
  2. Open the non-visual digital map of Elon University (You must use Google Chrome web browser.)
  3. Click the Accelerate button on the map to open it in SAS Graphics Accelerator Map View.
  4. Press Page down to swing the virtual cane clockwise.
  5. Press Page Up to swing the cane counterclockwise.
  6. Press Enter to jump to the object that is currently indicated by the virtual cane.
  7. Pres H for additional commands.

SAS Graphics Accelerator Commands

Below are the commands used with SAS Graphics Accelerator maps:

Ed Summers, the developer behind non-visual digital maps, shares insider information about SAS Graphics Accelerator. Getting Started with Non-Visual Digital Maps post.

Satellite view of Pittsboro Historic Courthouse circle with text

Pittsboro Map Lessons: Getting Started

Teaching students how to use non-visual digital maps

2 Screenshots of Elon Campus: One is a visual map (Google Maps) and & the other is a non-visual map made from Google Maps data.

Getting Started with Non-Visual Digital Maps